There doesn’t seem to be a day goes by nowadays when some PR, marketing or other expert doesn’t wax lyrical about social purpose.
I/we have been as guilty about that as anyone.
It’s a hot topic and has been the theme for a number of PR, marketing and comms events I’ve been to in last few months.
And with good reason. It’s difficult to argue against the premise that organisations today absolutely need to better consider and articulate their ‘purpose’, with evidence all pointing to the idea that customers buy increasingly into why a business does what it does rather than necessarily what it does. An organisation has to have a positive reason for existing, fully integrated into its business strategy, as numerous figureheads have pointed out in recent times.
And it’s equally clear that traditional approaches to CSR have failed. Hours of volunteer work spent painting fences or planting trees, whilst very noble in themselves, have done little to save the planet, whilst societies are as divided as they have ever been and trust in business, media. NGOs and governments remains low.
There needs to be a radical rethink.
But is there a risk that the hype around social purpose will end up as just another type of ‘repackaged’ CSR.
That worry was underlined by a marketing expert who recently pointed to the need to call out poorly applied brand purpose for the fake-humility it can be.
I can see his point, and I think it’s rooted in the same concern that social purpose could end up being all dressing and no substance.
Also last week, I heard the comms team at a global telco talk about their approach to purpose driven comms at a CIPR Influence Live event - an approach that has enabled women in developed and developing countries access the internet, financial services and support in numerous ways.
All good, but I think they hit the nail on the head when they said that what they discovered through their activity was that for it to be a success, to be authentic and credible, it needed to infiltrate into every corner of an organisation, it needs alignment with all areas of business strategy and it needs genuine staff engagement.
That’s where the substance is, it needs to start internally, and it needs buy in from all levels, through good staff engagement supported by internal communications.
That’s why the PR function – the bit that reaches into and brings together every area of an organisation - is so critical not just to the communications around social purpose but in its strategic conceptualisation too.
If organisations can get the internal bit right, it should put them on a good footing to implement a strategy that goes beyond outdated broken CSR, that avoids the risk of diluting the purpose agenda, and that gives a purpose strategy substance, credibility and authenticity.